Thinking Outside the Box

Columbia lets you follow your shipping box as it's reused.
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Columbia lets you follow your shipping box as it's reused.

Add another tick to the transparency chart. Columbia is now letting its website shoppers opt to receive their shipment in a recycled box. In August, Columbia launched e-commerce and began offering online customers the option to ship their orders in a used box. Since the launch, more than 60% of customers have chosen this option at checkout. At the same Columbia created a community site called A Box Life where shoppers can register their used box, track its journey and share box stories.

On the outside of each reused box is A Box Life sticker with a unique code (similar to a barcode) and number. Before you send your reused box on its next journey, you can visit A Box Life and enter your box’s mobile phone-scanable code. Then you can see where your box has been, you can post post pictures and stories about your box and you can check up on your box's whereabouts whenever you choose.

It's cute, a little gimmicky, and part of a larger packaging reduction strategy at Columbia. Certainly, the question comes to mind, aren't there more impactful ways Columbia could be spending their sustainability budget? And why not just ship 100% of orders in reusable boxes and give shoppers the same tracking option? Are shoppers not opting for a reused box because they think a reused box might be somehow contaminated, or do they just not care?

By involving shoppers, Columbia's box project does do one thing right: reminding shoppers they have a choice. As I see it, there are two dangers here:

1. Greenwashing: If Columbia doesn't make deep and meaningful behind-the-scenes changes not only in their product packaging, but in their product manufacturing;

2. You might find out your box has a more exciting life than you do!

- Berne Broudy